The value of taxonomies vs flat lists

I’m having a bit of a think… does a taxonomic breakdown of species (ie order -> family -> genus -> species) add much value?

I thought it did at first but beginning to wonder now – Lee Evans has sent me his UK400 lists for UK and Western Palearctic to use as options for species lists, and these are literally lists rather than hierarchies unlike the way the IOC structures its lists.

My thinking initially was that it would be useful as a memory prodder – if I’ve been to somewhere that has lots of dabbling ducks it would be useful to see all the dabbling ducks grouped together in case I had forgotten one.

In reality I’m finding that I rarely use the taxonomic structure and just go straight to the flat list.

What I’m currently leaning towards is the option (on two levels) to select whether you want to use a flat list or a taxonomic hierarchy. Just using a flat list certainly has a big impact in terms of performance – currently it takes 5-10 seconds to load up the full BOU list as a hierarchy when I start the program but it takes less than a second if I just load it as a flat list of species.

The other benefit of being able to just use a flat list is that it makes it easier to import or set up different lists – for example loading those UK400 lists, otherwise I need to try and reverse-engineer where species fit into the taxonomy.

What you’d lose if you elected to use just a flat list would be the ability to report on how many species of duck you’d recorded as percentage of all ducks on the list. I did like that facility but maybe its not worth it.

Any thoughts?

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6 Responses to “The value of taxonomies vs flat lists”

  1. John Fleet Says:

    Flat list is good enough for me!

  2. Jonas Nordin Says:

    Hi!
    Could you please elaborate a little further what would be the difference with a flat list versus a hierarchial list? With a flat list do you mean a plain species list with the Engish names only? In what order will the names appear? In alphabetic order? I hope it will be possible to have the full world list included and at this point I feel strongly that a hierarchial list following the species order according to IOC is preferable.
    Regards // Jonas

    • bedlingtonwanderer Says:

      Hi Jonas,

      What I mean is do you see any value in seeing the species in a “tree structure” a bit like with the file structure on your PC.. you would effectively have “folders” for each Order of birds, and within each order folder you would have folders for each family within that order, and then within each family’s folder there would be a folder for genus and finally within each genus folder would be the species.

      For a flat list I have a single continuous list of all species, ie you don’t need to drill down through the taxonomic structure of orders/gamilies/genera to see a species. At the moment the default sort-order is dependent upon the source of the list – UK400 list is based on Voous and has species in order of development, the BOURC is I gather slightly different but still has the order based on groups. The flat list can also be sorted by alphabetical order of either common or scientific name.

      At the moment I present both options to the user, however if I dropped the hierarchical view the program would run significantly faster and would have a more streamlined user interface.

  3. Al kirkley Says:

    I think the flat list is fine. I doubt I would use the hierarchial view.

  4. Jonas Nordin Says:

    Thanks for the explanation. I think a flat list will be fine as long as it is possible to sort according any of the accepted taxonomic lists and not only by alphabetical order of either scientific or common names.

    Exciting to see the “Recorder” develop. Keep up the good work!

    Regards // Jonas

  5. David Hird Says:

    I also think a flat list is acceptable. The priority is to find a bird quickly.


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